I never appreciated how sassy Alanna is in this first chapter until I reread it analytically. I think part of my problem is that I read the Protector of the Small quartet first. Since Kel gets to openly be herself, those books are "burn the patriarchy to the ground and scatter the ashes" right from the beginning. You know, in a quiet, Kel sort of way.
But since Alanna is pretending to be male, the Song of the Lioness books are more an examination of how the patriarchy hurts men too.
Take this exchange between Jonathan and Myles.
"It's all right," Myles reassured her. "Your life here is going to be difficult. Our Codes of Chivalry makes harsh demands."
"Sir Myles, are you going to start in on the Code again?" Jonathan asked. "You know we never agree that it asks too much of us."
"No, I'm not going to 'start on' the Code today," Myles replied. "For one thing, you boys won't agree with me until the glamour of being knights and nobles has worn off and you can see the toll our way of life has taken from you."
Yeesh. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of knighthood.
Or there's Gary's comment later in the chapter: "You'll never catch up. You just do as much as you can and take the punishments without saying anything. Sometimes I wonder if that isn't what they're really trying to teach us—to take plenty and keep our mouths shut."
Also pretty bleak. But it's true. The pages are expected to bear a torturous amount of work—that everyone knows they can't complete—quietly and without complaint. They're not allowed to admit they're being bullied or when they feel frustrated, sad, or afraid. To receive their knight's shield, they endure abuse, pain, and humiliation, all without once questioning the system enacting that abuse, pain and humiliation. And when they do receive their shield, they're expected to watch a new crop of boys go through the same abuse and teach them not to ask questions about it either. No one is ever meant to wonder if there's a better way to make boys into knights. (Except Myles, because Myles is the best.)
And Pierce doesn't hesitate to show how bullies flourish in this system. Ralon, for example, is a disgusting human being, but because he's got noble blood and he's good at fighting and exploiting weaker people, he gets to the level of a squire before Alanna solves the problem herself. And to get justice, Alanna has to repeat the same violence that was enacted on her. There’s no peaceful solution to the problem of Ralon because the system doesn’t allow it, but I’m sure we’ll get into that later.
Basically, this system is broken, and one thing I'm looking forward to is tracking the evolution of these characters and how they work to repair the cracks in their system. The other thing I enjoy is the way the new generation of characters expect better treatment than their elders and refuse to apologize for it. Just because the older generation had it hard doesn't mean kids should have to put up with the same crap.
The other thing I want to discuss is Alanna's brief decision to leave the palace. First of all, let's take a moment to listen to why she wants to leave: "I'm going from sunrise to sunset and after without a stop, and no end in sight. My free time's a joke—I'm out of free time before I get to the third class of the morning. And they expect me to keep up, and they punish me if I don't... And if I say anything, I get more work!"
Alanna does not object to the idea of work. She's engaged in her classes and talented at fighting arts. And while some of it's wounded pride, since she doesn't want to admit that she might have more to learn after being top dog at Trebond, she still makes a good point. The object of her daily schoolwork isn't to teach her math or reading; it's to teach her to take what she's given without complaint and accept more without a sound. She's meant to learn that she can never win the game but that she's still expected to try, and that if she does succeed, the goalposts will be moved without any recognition of her accomplishments. And she must accept this.
And the thing is—Alanna does accept it. She decides to stay not because she finds a way to work within the system or because someone decides to treat her more fairly. She just gets too exhausted to complain any longer, and when she finally has time to think again, she's become conditioned to ill treatment.
When you put it that way, she's right to be upset.
Not that Coram doesn't have a point about working for your goals. That's a good lesson. You can't get anywhere in life without effort. I can't call myself a writer if I don't write, and I can't expect anyone to respect my comments on other people's work if I'm not doing my best to improve and learn from everything I can. But I can also look at a system where someone expects me to work for free, even though my writing is a service they want and need, and say that system is broken, and that it should respect me as a person instead of a cog in the machine.
So... life is complicated, I guess?
One last thing about this scene. Alanna has a lot of mystical things going for her. In this first book, she gets a magic sword. In the second book, she receives the blessing of the goddess and gets an actual god for her animal companion. In the third she gets another magic sword. Etc. But even with all this happening, Alanna puts in so much work for her goals. She might have a destiny, but she'd never have been able to fulfill it if she didn't work to make herself the best knight in the realm.We’ll see more of this when Alanna takes on sword training, though.